Bush Sunflower

Encelia californica

Overview

Overview

Bush sunflower (or California encelia, Encelia californica) is one of the dominant species in our coastal sage scrub vegetation. Like many plants in the Reserve, they may are seasonally dimorphic, shedding large winter leaves during the dry summer months. But when the winter rains begin, bush sunflower brightens the Reserve with cheerful, dark-eyed yellow "daisies".

This is a good plant for the home garden. With a little supplemental water through the summer, it will remain green and produce flowers throughout the year. The plant can be severely pruned back in the fall every year or two to keep it compact.

 

                          

Description

Description 2,4,23,59

Bush sunflower is a rounded perennial shrub, usually less than 5 feet (1.5 m) in height. When not crowded, it may be as wide as or wider than high. Branches long, pale, often curved into a tangled mass; they are brittle, giving rise to one alternate name, California brittlebush.
 
Leaves are green, covered with very short hairs. They are usually 1¼-2½ inches (3-6 cm) long, ovate to elliptic, tapered to a narrow tip; they may be heart shaped at the base. Margins are smooth or finely toothed. Three prominent veins extend out from the base.23 Foliage has a strong, characteristic odor, difficult to describe - a bit like cut green grass.

Flower heads are "daisies" with a purplish brown eye of disk florets (the delicate coloring can best be seen through a magnifying lens), surrounded by 15-25 bright yellow ray florets, which may be blunt or lobed at the tip. One to a few flower heads are produced from a long, loosely branched stem; flower heads extend above the foliage. The main bloom period is Feb. through June,1 but single flower heads may be found throughout the year, especially where a little water is available.

Unlike many related species, the seeds of bush sunflower lack the pappus that act as parachutes, facilitating wind-dispersal of seeds. Instead the flattened seeds have a dense fringe of short hairs along the edges and sparse hairs on the flat surfaces. Presumably seeds are spread by birds and mammals.

 

               

Other Common Names: 
California encelia, California brittlebush

Distribution

Distribution 7,8

Bush sunflower is found in Central and Southern California and in Baja California, Mexico below 2000 ft. (600 m). It may be a co-dominant in coastal sage scrub and is also found in openings in the chaparral.

In the Reserve it is abundant along the trails, especially in the western half of Central Basin around the Nature Center, east and west of the Rios trailhead and in Holmwood Canyon.

 

         

This plant occurs primarily in the following vegetation types in the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve: 
Chaparral
Coastal sage scrub

Classification

 

Classification 2,11

Bush sunflower is a dicot angiosperm in the sunflower family, the Asteraceae.2 This is the largest family of vascular plants in the  Northern Hemisphere.143 "Flowers" of Asteraceae are made up of one or both of two types of flowers (florets): symmetrical disk florets and strapped-shaped ray florets. These are crowded onto a common base (receptacle), and together are often assumed to be a single flower, which we call a flower head.11,44,49
 
Other familiar Asteraceae that occur in the Reserve include sea dahlia (Leptosyne maritima), goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii) and California sagebrush (Artemisia californica).

Encelia species have conspicuous daisy-like flower heads with both small disk flowers forming the eye of the daisy and large, strap shaped ray flowers forming the corolla. The genus Encelia has only five other members native to California, of which the best known may be the brittlebush (E. farinosa) which is common in our desert. Only one species has been reported from the Reserve.48

 

           

Ecology

Ecology

Like many of the species in the coastal sage scrub, bush sunflower is seasonally dimorphic. Large leaves produced during the winter are replaced by much smaller leaves during the drought conditions of summer and fall.6 Leaf area of the summer leaves are of the order of 10% that of the larger ones.6 Under prolonged water-stress, even the summer leaves are shed and the plant goes dormant.59 There is some evidence that smaller leaves are more resistant to grazing.6

 

               

Human Uses

Human Uses

In spite of the abundance of bush sunflower, we found only one report of use by Native Americans. This is ironic because the genus is named after a German naturalist, Christoph Entzelt, (1517 - 1584) who wrote about the medicinal uses of plants and animal parts.21

 

The Gabrielino Indians of the Los Angeles Basin boiled all parts of the plant into a thick paste that was used to relieve aching joints and toothaches. The stems were chewed as a breath freshener.292


Bush sunflower is often encountered in native plant gardens. If dead-headed regularly and given some water during the summer, it produces flowers all year. It looks best if pruned back hard occasionally. It is also used in revegetation projects, especially on bluffs to control erosion.24,79,292

 

                

 

 

Interesting Facts

Interesting Facts

The Kumeyaay name for bush sunflower was Nahekwi which means "it watches the sun."16

 

                 

Photos

March 2012; photo courtesy of Barbara Wallach
Nature Center; March 2008
Nature Center; March 2008
Nature Center; March 2008
Central Basin, southwest side (Pole Road); March 2008
Nature Center; March 2008
Nature Center; March 2008
Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); March 2008
Nature Center; Dec. 2009
Nature Center; Dec. 2009
Nature Center; Sept. 2013
Oct. 2013
Nov. 2013
Nov. 2013
Nov. 2013
Nov. 2013
Oct. 2013
Central Basin, southwest side (Pole Road); March 2009
Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); April 2008; photo courtesy of Denise Stillinger
Central Basin, south side (Rios trailhead); April 2007; photo courtesy of Denise Stillinger
Central Basin, north side (Nature Center); April 2007; photo courtesy of Denise Stillinger